Activity Workshop
 

Murmeli

This page is a discussion of ideas for a possible, perhaps useful, bit of software, which is not yet complete but under development. If you have comments, or suggestions why it's a good or bad idea, please send them in by email.

The aim is to provide a way for people to communicate with each other in ways similar to email, blogging, microblogging, tweeting, photo-sharing and social networking. The difference between Murmeli and the existing networks is that Murmeli is inherently secure, using fully encrypted friend-to-friend communications directly rather than sharing everything with a corporation, its partners, advertisers, spammers and snoopers.

The working title for this was for a while "Murmur", conveying the idea that I can "murmur" something to you so that only you can understand it, and nobody else can. But it turns out there are already not one but two communication tools under that name, so the current working title is "Murmeli". This is the Swiss German name, and the Finnish name, for an alpine marmot, known in German as a "Murmeltier".

The decentral way

What if it were possible to exchange information and messages with your friends, without any one company being in control? What if it could be designed so that nobody else could read your messages or your details without you allowing it? That would put you back in control of your own data again.

What kind of information could that be? Anything really, it could be short messages intended for all your friends to read, long personal messages just for one individual, photographs of you on holiday, suggestions for movie night, cookie recipes, even short status updates with less than 140 characters. For each message, you would be able to determine exactly who should be able to read it, from one single contact, to a selection of contacts or possibly groups of contacts.

Apart from the sender and the recipient of each message, noone else can understand the contents, even if they're acting as a (trusted) relay, because only the recipient has the key to decrypt what was written.

How it would work

A simple diagram to visualize the connections is shown below. The Facebook model is shown on the left, where the corporation (who is interested only in profit) owns and controls the data, and allows access to various people including your friends (and well-paying advertisers). Murmeli's proposed model is shown in the centre, where the users contact each other directly, and pass information in encrypted form to each other as they wish. For each message, nobody except the sender and the intended recipient can understand what is being said, and it's not even totally obvious who is sending something to whom.

Diagram to illustrate connections and data ownership

On the right of this diagram is another model, using a server for each user. Each user is then responsible for the maintenance of their own personal server, and the servers exchange information with each other. This alternative model would give benefits of continuous connectivity between servers and access from multiple clients, but gives each user a significant burden of obtaining, setting up and running their own additional server. This is the chosen model for Diaspora and Appleseed, among other networks. However, as we'll see, Murmeli will work fully peer-to-peer and won't require extra servers.